An Ironman

I want to do something a little different today.

A couple weeks ago, my friend Zach P. competed in Ironman Canada. For anyone who doesn’t know me, I’m fascinated by Ironman competitions (and Ironmen… allegedly… heh). Not that a marathon isn’t an accomplishment, but I find it hard for many people to grasp the actual physical challenge of an Ironman which, for those who don’t know, is a super triathlon (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run/marathon). For a race that long, it is as much physical as it is psychological (or way more psychological?). Sure, you need to be physically prepared so that your body can handle the intensity and endurance — but, like many competitions, it’s our minds that usually get in the way.

I always LOVE reading the post-Ironman race report that my Ironman friends share afterwards, in an attempt to capture some of the pain and euphoria of completing this bad boy. And while I have never raced in anything even close to an Ironman competition, for some reason, as I read Zach’s race report this year, I felt more connected to the experience than ever.

I just thought I would share what Zach wrote, because somewhere in his Ironman saga, which involved travel woes and feeling like death, it reminded me of life in general. My life, maybe. Even though most of us cannot relate to the physical pain and mental determination it takes to complete an Ironman, I think we’ve all had our own “Ironmans” to get through. Some of us are in the middle of one right now.

Zach P.

Here is Zach’s story:


The Saga That Was Ironman Canada

Here we go!!!

On Wednesday I left the apartment and headed out to LaGuardia Airport at 10:30am in order to get there with enough time to spare for my 1:30 pm flight.   I checked in and got through security with ease.  I always love to get to the airport early so I can watch all the large planes take off.  My imagination soars away with the planes as I wonder where those lucky people will land at the end of their flight.

It was raining out and several Air Canada flights had been cancelled, so I started to sweat.  Then of course I hear “the 1:30 pm flight scheduled to leave for Toronto has been moved to 3:30 pm.”  Uh Oh!  That means I will miss my connection from Toronto to Vancouver and my third flight from Vancouver to Penticton.

I went to the kiosk and they re-booked me to Penticton but told me that I needed to re-tag my bags when I got to Toronto.  What?? Never did that before, but I didn’t think much of it.  I mean, I’ve traveled to many different far off destinations, missed connections and never had to re-tag my bags.  Not going to worry… (Infamous LAST WORDS!)

When I landed in Toronto I learned that I had 55mins to de-board, go through customs, grab my bags and clear customs again before dropping them off, getting through another security check, and then running to my gate.  AHHHH!!!!  I’m doing an airport Ironman and my transitions have to be lightening quick!!

I somehow managed to do everything and get to my gate as they were preparing to board…..BUT……..WAIT…..they have canceled my flight due to mechanical problems.  Our flight was now going to be two and a half hours later.  Wait, that means I will miss my flight to Penticton. Yep, it will according to customer service, but DON’T WORRY they will book me on the next morning’s flight and give me a room in a hotel, but THAT will have to be decided by the gate agent when I get to Vancouver.  WONDERFUL, I am at the discretion of some tired agent in Vancouver who couldn’t care less about annoyed patrons. Ok I told myself, it could be worse.

I then told customer service that I didn’t re-tag my bags cause they gave me absolutely no time to figure out what the hell I was doing with the bags before needing to board my flight.  “Well that is not our problem” said the French employee “however you have such a delay that I wouldn’t worry about it, they will be on your flight.”  Ok I said, and on I went to wait for my next flight.  Somehow I was upgraded to first class!  Free baked cookies and ice cream! Nice flight over to Vancouver besides sitting at the gate for an extra hour as they off-loaded all the checked bags because someone decided not to fly.

Upon arriving at Vancouver, I waited at the baggage terminal for my bags not to appear. I was not alone; a woman who I swear looked like a PRO IRONMAN woman looked pissed off as well.  We both trudged over to Air Canada baggage service.  “Oh, we have your bags already checked through Penticton, I guarantee it. They will be there when you arrive tomorrow” a tired spokeswoman stated… Infamous last words, take two.

I headed off to my hotel, which turned out to be a suite, NICE!!! Two stories in fact, phantasmagoric!!!

The next day I flew out to Penticton, and on our arrival I saw the swim course and people swimming.  Goosebumps appear.  This is really happening!! I am here!

My happiness fell flat when I saw that my bags were not there. Where the F*&$ are they?  I have had enough of the S#$% service Air Canada has been providing.  “We don’t actually know where they are, our hunch is they are in Vancouver waiting to board the next flight this evening” the gate attendant said. At this point I was so mad that I told her, “ your fucking company has had me flying for over 24 hours and you are leaving me sitting on my ass in the middle of nowhere without anything in my name. All I have are these shorts, shirt, a computer and a dead phone.”  The woman I saw the night before said that she was missing a bag too, but then they found hers.  I could have sworn she looked familiar…. Who was she? Ha ha.

I went outside, screamed and threw my binder of files into the wind.  The next two days were full of ranting and raving about not having my bags.  All I was able to do was register for the race and sit around whimpering while all the other tri-hotties rode their bikes around. Finally I gave in and bought some gear so that I could swim and run, to rid me of my anxiety of having to race and not having gear with which to do so.

All this training and literally nothing to show for it……Why now?

I felt like I was on a show; I had been dropped in the middle of nowhere and it was my task to get back to civilization alive and healthy.

On the bright side to all of this, I had the pleasure of speaking to Paula Newby Fraser—-the queen of Kona Hawaii Ironman and she gave me her cell number telling me that everything would be ok, and that I would be racing on Sunday.  If anything went wrong, I could call her. WOWZIERS I am still in shock… A goddess of Ironman was speaking to a mere mortal such as myself.

Finally Air Canada found my gear…….in Sydney, Australia.  It would come to my doorstep, hopefully, the Saturday afternoon or the day before the race.  Well at least I would have something.

The bags arrived and I was ready to set up for the race. Yikes….it’s here….IRONMAN CANADA.

Oh, and by the way, the woman I thought looked familiar on my flights was Tereza Macel, last year’s winner in Ironman Canada for the women. She finished 4th in Hawaii… A budding GODDESS. He he.

At 1 am I got up to eat and drink around 1,500 calories of food that consisted of peanut butter, a banana, Gatorade, water and tomato soup.  I headed back to bed, but couldn’t sleep — nightmares.

5am came and THE DAY HAD ARRIVED!  2 hours before the canon blew.

I checked in, got body-marked, put on my wetsuit, checked my bike and gear, and headed down to the swim start.  I wanted to start on the outside, away from the main pack of swimmers. It’s not the straightest line but I felt that I would make up for lost time on the outside by not being kicked in the face by the main pack, who had a straighter line.

2,900 athletes lined up for one large mass start. I had goose bumps and everyone started talking about how nervous they were.  I was nervous but I wanted to get the show on the road.  The gun went off, and everyone started to swim!!!

I got around 500 meters into it and started to see swimmers who looked like seals with their suits all around me, and I began to hyperventilate for some reason. I kept saying to myself “I can’t do this, I can’t do this.”   I began to breaststroke.  I told myself “ I have trained for this, I have trained for this” over and over.   I started to get into a zone again and continued on.  The course was an out, over and back in a semi rectangle….a perfect course.  On the way back to the shore, around a mile into it, I started to get VERY cold and I felt like I was going to freeze to death. I actually felt myself shivering. Finally the shoreline came up and people were walking up to the transition area.  I looked at my watch, 1:07…YES!! My goal was 1:10 for the 2.4 mile swim.

Swim time 1:07:10

In transition I saw that my hands were blue and I was shivering. A fear set in that I wouldn’t make it out on the bike, that I was too cold. But I decided that there was no way in hell that I came out here to do just a swim. I would rather be pulled off the course by officials than give up.  I got dressed and got on the bike.

Transition 1 time: 8mins 29 secs

The 112 mile bike:

I quickly settled into a rhythm on the bike and started to warm up.  It was sunny out but a little windy and definitely not warm.

The first 40 miles were mostly flat and I felt great; my heart rate was easily under my 145 beats per minute target.  Up comes Richter Pass, a significant 10 miles of climbing.  It went pretty well. There were thousands of supporters forming funnels on the toughest parts of the climb — AWESOME!! So motivating and positive during a tough time.

The middle part of the bike was rolling and WINDY! Headwinds, tailwinds, side winds, under winds. Wind wind wind.

I made it my goal not to stop on long bike rides for fear of cramping, but I had to in the middle of this one. I couldn’t help it!! The stop took 5 minutes or more — not a great thing because I had to wait in a line. Yuck.

The rest of the middle section of the ride went well. I kept under or at 145 bpm for the majority of this section.  I also hydrated and had pretty good nutrition, eating my 200 calories per hour and around 800-1,000mg of sodium per hour.

THE RIDE WAS VERY BEAUTIFUL, MOUNTAINS EVERYWHERE.  I felt like yodeling during many parts of the race

Then came the third and last part….Yellow lake, another huge climb.

All of a sudden a gale force wind hit us like a truck and the clouds that had formed above us began to lightly open up dropping rain. Having to climb a large grade on wet roads and heavy wind equaled my first feelings of personal hell.  I felt like I wanted to die and I still had to get to the top of a mountain.  The only way I did it was with the amazing crowd who again formed funnels around the course, even though it was raining.  Thanks crowd!!

Bike time 6:10: 56

I finally got back to the transition area feeling ok. I changed, use the bathroom again, and off I went onto the run course.  I felt good and I started to get emotional because I didn’t think I would feel this good on my tired legs.

Transition 2 time: 7mins 29sec

26.2  mile run (aka, marathon):

I ran the first 12.5 miles and then began to run/walk, which is what I planned on doing if I made it to the halfway point feeling ok.  On the way back I started feeling very, very bad, and the only way I made it is through was with Pepsi and warm chicken broth soup.  Honestly, all I can say is that I felt like death, but had to keep moving.  There really isn’t much to say besides the fact that personal demons come to mess with your psyche halfway through an Ironman marathon… At least for me.

When I finally made it back into town, around the last corner, a mile from the finish, I saw that I might make it under 12 hours!  I ran like a bat out of hell!  My dad was cheering me on and I sprinted to the finish line to cross in 11: 59:55.  It was an amazing end to a windy and rainy day. I wouldn’t trade this race situation for any other.

Marathon time 4:25:57

Thanks for reading.


Hey Zach… CONGRATULATIONS (again).



Filed under Contributor, Travel Disasters

3 responses to “An Ironman

  1. bernie

    yeah!!! well done!!!!! really enjoyed reading about too!!! bernie

  2. Geordie

    I remember watching the finish of the ironman in Madison, Wisconsin. My god, did those people look exhausted. Well done, Zach, for attempting something most humans wouldn’t even consider.

  3. missy

    wow, that’s enough work for the both of us! does that make me an ironwoman? nice job, zach!

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